• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Random drug testing in Woodford schools discussed

Woodford County middle and high school student-athletes, other students who represent the middle and high schools at competitive events, as well as WCHS student drivers would be randomly drug tested under a policy being discussed by the Woodford County Board of Education.

The board approved first reading of the random drug testing policy on Jan. 17 by a 4 to 1 vote, with board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV voting no. Wilson voiced support for fine-tuning a random drug testing policy and addressing all unanswered questions before moving forward with its implementation, which led to the board agreeing to delay implementing the drug testing policy until next school year.

Instead of moving forward with a second reading of the drug testing policy at its regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 22, the board agreed to table action until its next regular meeting in February so parents, students and others in the community would have an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed policy.

“I don’t understand the urgency (of having a second reading this month) because … this is not going to go into effect until next year,” said Wilson. “…I don’t think waiting another 30 days (to take action) would hurt.” Other board members agreed with his concern.

“It never hurts us to get input and to listen,” said board Vice Chair Debby Edelen. Jared Christian, who serves as a non-voting student representative on the board, said many of his peers at WCHS did not understand how the policy would be implemented. Delaying action would also give students more time to become informed on how drug testing process would work, he added.

The board agreed to post the proposed drug policy on the district’s website, and share that link with middle and high school parents via email so they can provide feedback on the policy.

Beginning next school year, a pool of 50 randomly-selected middle and high school students will be drug tested each month under the proposed policy.

“The intent of the policy is not to be punitive,” Garet Wells, director of staff/student services, told board members at the Jan. 17 meeting.

“There’s no discipline associated with (this policy). There are sanctions” for a student who has a positive drug test.

Students will not participate in 25 percent of their team’s season (or lose their driving permit privileges for nine weeks if a driver) for a first offense. Students will miss 50 percent of the season (or lose driving permit privileges for 18 weeks) for a second offense, with a third or subsequent offense resulting in a one-year suspension from a team or a loss of driving permit privileges for one year, Wells explained. Drug test results will be shared with the parent, principal and coach or sponsor, but not given to law enforcement unless compelled by a court order, Wells explained. He said law enforcement would be involved (under a different policy) if a student was also in possession of an illegal drug.

“One of the key pieces (of this drug testing policy) is the educational component,” said schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins. He said the district social worker will meet with students and parents to inform them about the drug testing policy, but also to educate them about the effects of drug use before any random drug testing has occurred.

“If this (policy) gives one kid a reason to say no and not be involved (in drug use),” said Hawkins, “then I think it’s successful.” He described random testing as one way to discourage drug use.

Of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts, Wells said 99 districts have drug testing policies and 77 randomly test a pool of students. Some districts only drug test athletes, he said.

The cost of implementing a random drug testing policy will be $10,000 to $15,000 annually, Wells said. He said drug testing (using a urine sample) will likely occur during the school day.

The board agreed at its Jan. 17 meeting to not include sixth-graders in the random drug testing pool of middle and high school students after concerns were raised by board Vice Chair Debby Edelen.

“I just have a problem with (including) sixth grade,” said Edelen. She and board member Margie Cleveland asked district administrators to develop a policy for random drug testing in Woodford County schools.

“…Kids going into sixth grade, it’s such a transformation” as they transition from elementary to middle school. Random drug testing may give them another reason not to participate in athletics or other activities, said Edelen.

Being drug tested while at school could be “very freaky” and “extremely terrifying” for a sixth-grader, said WCHS senior Jared Christian, the board’s student-representative, when asked for his thoughts on the issue of sixth-graders being drug tested.

The parents of sixth-graders, who participate in sports or other school-sanctioned competitive events, can choose to have their children included in the pool of students who are randomly drug tested under the policy approved by the Board of Education.

“I do think it’s important to remember that addiction crosses all lines – socioeconomic, racial – all lines,” said board member Sherri Springate. “And I think a key thing is that we’re thinking of prevention. So we’re thinking of trying to catch that (drug use) before it becomes an issue because we just know the devastation that (addiction) has on families.”

Bus transportation

In the aftermath of extremely cold temperatures and wind chill temps hovering at or below zero earlier this month, the board discussed the procedure for canceling school.

“I think these decisions are impossible – to call school off or not to call school off,” said Edelen. “I am so glad that this is not my decision.”

She lauded Hawkins and Transportation Director Kay Penn for doing an excellent job in their efforts to make an informed decision on whether or not to cancel school, which is ultimately Hawkins’ call.

“This (procedure I use) allows me to be consistent in that decision-making process. And I think consistency – when you’re talking inclement weather decisions – is so important,” said Hawkins. “…They may not agree with it, but they at least know how we go about making that decision.”

District school buses transport about 2,500 students daily, according to Hawkins. He said drivers are instructed to slow down and wait for students, who may not be outside at their stop because of cold temps. Drivers also warm up their buses for 20 to 30 minutes before beginning their routes, he added.

“So we do try to take some extra precautions on those days,” said Hawkins. He said there are few bus stops in the county where students would have to wait for “any length of time before a bus” picks them up. Also, parents always have the option of not sending their children to school if they feel it’s too cold and not safe for them, said Edelen.

In a related matter, Hawkins said the district does not have plenty of school bus drivers, in response to a question by Wilson.

The school superintendent credited a recent advertising blitz for attracting four people who are now being trained to be drivers. “That’ll get us closer to where we need to be, but not quite there. We’ll continue to try to work at it,” said Hawkins.

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